Hogan, Trevino, Watson, Woods...Kaymer? If the U.S. Open champ wins at Hoylake, he'll join elite company
In his long prime, any year Big Jack did not win the Masters, he left Augusta mildly depressed. Another chance to win the Grand Slam -- poof, gone. In 2000-'01, Tiger Woods won the so-called Tiger Slam. I hope you savored it, because nobody is ever going to win four straight majors again, no matter where New Year's Eve falls in the run. The whole world plays golf now, and there are way too many elite players for one guy to rise above the crowd in, say, April, and then again in June and July and August, pressure and scrutiny rising all the while. No matter how good your golf and game plan might be, TMZ will have other plans for you.
And so, in this age of diminished expectations, we throw down a new gauntlet: the Open Slam. There's only one man who can win it this year, Martin Kaymer, of Düsseldorf and the world.
The Masters oozes clubby gentility, and the PGA Championship bears the stamp of Walter Hagen, but the game has only two majestic events that truly connect us to our golfing forebears: the U.S. Open, in June, and the British Open, in July. Win those two back-to-back and go directly to the pantheon. Take a belated bow, Ben Hogan ('53), Lee Trevino ('71), Tom Watson ('82), Tiger Woods ('00). What was it like to own a summer?
Since the end of World War II -- and the rise of jet travel and the creation of a global golf village -- only two events truly deserve to be called World Golf Championships, and only that foursome has won them in the same year. Kaymer, following his win at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, goes to the British Open at Hoylake looking to become No. 5.
He'll have a chance. Not just because of his considerable skill and his more considerable intelligence, but because nothing could prepare a guy for Hoylake better than playing Pinehurst so expertly. No U.S. Open has ever played as linksy—as firm, fast, brown and bouncy -- as Pinehurst No. 2 did in June. Well, Newport Country Club probably did in '95 -- but that was 1895, when fairways were watered by the rain gods.
The last time the British Open visited Hoylake was in 2006, when a drought had turned the links into a massive swatch of brown burlap. But in recent months, greater Liverpool has had regular rain, and we will see green. Eight years ago, Woods wept in the arms of his caddie after the final putt dropped, a display of emotion Steve Williams had never seen from Woods. There was so much swirling in Woods's mind: sorrow, joy, satisfaction. His father, Earl, had died 10 weeks earlier, he had just concluded a grinding four days of golf, and he had won, for the third time, golf's oldest championship. For a moment, we were all with him.
Kaymer's personality is nothing like Woods's. Kaymer, who is 29, is open, gentle, patient, the opposite of haughty. Professionally, though, he does bear some similarities to Tiger. He played Pinehurst the way Woods played Hoylake, with chasing irons and superior lag putting and all eyes on him. That's not easy.
Kaymer has not played Royal Liverpool -- Hoylake's birth name. But he feels like he has. He won the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits on a pseudo-links course. He won the 2014 U.S. Open on a neo-links course. He'll be looking to complete the Open Slam on a real links course. He'll be hoping the wind howls. The tougher the better.
In their Open Slam summers, Woods, Watson, Trevino and Hogan had to shift gears in a way that Kaymer will not. They were like tennis players moving from clay to grass. Kaymer has less distance to travel, but that's not his fault. His job is to play the course presented to him. All the USGA is doing is returning to the game's British roots. At Pinehurst, Kaymer chipped with his putter all week long. That's golf, too. At St. Andrews, Woods once putted from 70 yards off a green.
"I just enjoy playing courses the way Pinehurst played this week, the way we played Whistling Straits," Kaymer said an hour after his victory, the sheen of perspiration still on his arms. "They're fast. There's not much room for error. You have to be committed to your tee shots and iron shots. You have to think a lot about strategy, where you want to pitch the ball, because it will release. I'm sure Hoylake is not going to be different."
It won't be. Pinehurst and Hoylake were put on the docket to test a golfer's head, along with some other body parts. The player's job is to solve the puzzle. Kaymer is 1 for 1, and he's the only guy who can go 2 for 2. He's the only guy who can own the summer of '14. The Open Slam is sitting there, in front of him, going begging.